Do you do the ego tango? That’s my own lighthearted name for something most of us do most of the time around others. We take part in a psychological dance, moving at an emotional level in response to their attitudes about us rather than based on a deeper desire to share ourselves with others. I’m really talking here about our tendency to only open up around those people who like us. If we meet someone who laughs at our jokes, we tell more jokes and chuckle at their witticisms. If they listen to us with interest, we prolong the conversation. On the other hand, if they seem to think we’re too loud or too opinionated, we may stop talking altogether — and soon sense a growing dislike for the person who’s making us feel unsure about ourselves.
It really is a kind of interior dance we all do in one way or another around our fellow human beings. At a ballroom, we look across the floor and wonder: “Does the other person like me? Hm, yes maybe they do.” With that added confidence, we invite the partner to dance with us. Then we begin to react as they react, to respond to their pleasure in our movements with growing pleasure in theirs or to stiffen against their movements if they seem uncomfortable. It’s difficult to enjoy dancing with someone who hates dancing with you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way in daily life. I think human beings can learn to adopt a more constructive approach to other people, based not on concerns about our own ego (“Do they like me?”) but rather on a strong commitment to sharing our talents, experience and personality with the world (“I’m going to try to make a difference”). Seeing past ego requires us to move beyond our insecurities and uncertainties about ourselves. All of us have these powerful insecurities and uncertainties, of course — that’s why we focus on how others see us. If they like us, we feel we’re ok. If they don’t, then maybe there’s something wrong with us. But we can greatly lessen the power of these insecurities and uncertainties to alter our behavior, ending our perpetual ego tango with everyone we’re around. A sincere commitment to help others, to improve humanity as best we can, to share who we really are with the world … these concepts allow us to stop much of the psychological dancing. They provide a deeper purpose for being ourselves around all other people and also allow us to accept others on their own terms, recognizing a common humanity whether someone likes us personally or not. This is what the Humanity Project’s original philosophy of shared value is all about. (You can read more about it at this link: http://thehumanityproject.com/programs/sharedvalue/) Our insecurities often hold us back in daily life and prevent us from sharing more fully with society. A powerful commitment to improve that society can provide the motivation we need to free the person we truly are within us, no matter how anyone reacts to us at the time.